JERUSALEM (AP) — Veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, one of the satellite channel’s best-known reporters, was shot dead Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. The broadcaster and two accompanying journalists blamed Israeli forces.
The Israeli army first suggested that Abu Akleh could have been killed by stray fire from Palestinian militants. But the military leader, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, later backtracked on that claim, saying it was unclear who had fired the fatal bullet.
Abu Akleh’s death could bring renewed scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is under scrutiny as part of a war crimes probe conducted by the International Criminal Court. He also threatened to further strain the often rocky relationship between the military and the international media.
Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for his coverage on Al Jazeera Arabic of the harsh realities of Israel’s indefinite military occupation of Palestinians, now in its 55th year. She was widely recognized in the West Bank and was also an American citizen.
His death echoed throughout the region. Arab governments condemned the killing.
There was also a wave of grief in the West Bank. In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian autonomous government, the body of Abu Akleh, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered with a wreath of flowers, was carried through the streets of the city center. Hundreds of people chanted, “With our spirit, with our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.
On Thursday, a procession was to take the body to burial in Jerusalem, where Abu Akleh was born.
In East Jerusalem, dozens of mourners gathered at the family home to pay their respects. Lina Abu Akleh, her niece, called her “my best friend, my second mother, my companion”.
“I never thought this day would come where the news would be about her and she wouldn’t be the one covering the news,” she said.
At one point, a group of Israeli police entered the house, where they were immediately greeted with shouts of “killers” and “occupiers” and chants to “get out”. It was not immediately clear why the police had come, and the officers soon left.
Palestinians gathered outside the family’s home on Wednesday evening, some holding Palestinian flags and posters with the photo of Shireen Abu Akleh. When the group headed for a main thoroughfare, the Israeli police tried to stop them. Guaranteed scrambles. Five Palestinians were injured and about half a dozen were arrested.
Abu Akleh was killed on the outskirts of Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, known as a militant stronghold. Israel has carried out near-daily raids in Jenin in recent weeks following a series of deadly attacks inside Israel carried out by militants from the region.
Kohavi, the Israeli military chief, said his forces came under indiscriminate fire from Palestinian militants. The military released body camera video of forces in the city as heavy gunfire erupted in the background.
But after earlier suggestions by Israeli officials that Palestinian fire may have killed the journalist, Kohavi said “at this stage, we cannot determine by whom she was injured and we regret her death.” Kohavi said a special team was being formed to investigate.
Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”. Palestinian journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time said they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers and did not see any militants in the area.
Abu Akleh’s producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in the back. He said any suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie”.
The outcome of the Israeli military investigation will be closely watched. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and called the investigation unfair and anti-Semitic. One of its main arguments against the investigation is that its military justice system is capable of investigating itself.
The findings of his investigation into Abu Akleh’s death may attract further scrutiny. Hussein Al Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said the Palestinians would transfer their information about the case to the court.
The Palestinian Forensic Institute said an initial autopsy was inconclusive. Rayan al-Ali, director of the institute, said a deformed bullet had been recovered and was being further investigated to determine who had fired it.
In New York, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Abu Akleh’s death “truly horrific” and called for a transparent investigation. She said protecting American citizens and journalists was “our top priority.”
Thomas-Greenfield said Abud Akleh did “an amazing interview” with her in the West Bank last November. “I left there with extraordinary respect for her,” she said.
The United Nations human rights office has called for an “independent and transparent investigation into his murder.” Impunity must end.
The White House has also called for a full investigation. “Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance,” said deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Al Jazeera, which has long had strained relations with Israel, halted its broadcast to announce his death on Wednesday morning.
In a statement broadcast on his channel, he called on the international community to “condemn and hold accountable the Israeli occupation forces for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.
He released a separate video showing Abu Akleh lying motionless on the side of a road wall as another reporter crouches nearby and a man cries out for an ambulance. Gunshots ring out in the background. Both reporters wore blue body armor clearly marked with the word “PRESS”. The video did not show the source of the shots.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security issues, condemned what it called a “shocking crime” committed by Israeli forces.
Qatar, the Arab League and Jordan all condemned the shooting, and in the Jordanian capital of Amman, a group of journalists and activists staged a solidarity march outside Al Jazeera’s offices.
Israelis have long been critical of Al Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely.
Relations between Israeli forces and foreign media, especially Palestinian journalists, are strained. A number of Palestinian reporters were injured by rubber bullets or tear gas while covering protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Two Palestinian journalists were shot dead by Israeli forces while filming violent protests along the Gaza border in 2018.
In November of the same year, PA cameraman Rashed Rashid was covering a protest near the Gaza border when he was shot in the left ankle, apparently by Israeli fire. The military never acknowledged the shooting.
During last year’s war between Israel and the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building in Gaza City housing the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was injured in the strike. Israel said Hamas used the building as a command center but provided no evidence.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents some 400 journalists working for international media, said it was “appalled and deeply shocked” by the killing and expressed hope “that those responsible for this horrific death will be held accountable.” “.
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem; Aref Tufaha in Jenin, West Bank; Jalal Hassan in Ramallah, West Bank; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Darlene Superville in Washington and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.